Space Shuttle Controversy

March 15, 1972

Report Outline
Decision to Build a Space Shuttle
Growth and Decline of Space Program
Arguments Against Shuttle Project

Decision to Build a Space Shuttle

1972: Year of Decision for Future Space Flight

The fate of America's manned space flight program hangs in the balance in 1972. With only two more Apollo moon missions scheduled, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration finds itself without a new long-range mandate to send men into space. But Nasa believes it has the ideal successor to Apollo. The agency has proposed, and President Nixon has endorsed, construction of a reusable space vehicle, commonly called the space shuttle.

As its name suggests, the shuttle would be capable of ferrying men and equipment between earth and space. Its lifetime of up to 100 round trips would lower the cost of space flight substantially, supporters argue. Further savings, as well as increased operational flexibility, would come from the shuttle's passenger-cargo payload capacity of up to 65,000 pounds. The space shuttle, Nasa declares, is “the key element in our program for the 197A.” In giving the go-ahead for shuttle development, President Nixon predicted that the vehicle would become “the workhorse of our whole space effort.”

Despite all of its purported advantages, the shuttle has detractors as well as admirers. Some critics contend that the project will cost several times more than is currently estimated. It is asserted also that there is no present or foreseeable need for a vehicle that would have to make about one flight a week to justify its development costs. Still another line of criticism holds that the project amounts to a welfare program for the depressed aerospace industry and that money earmarked for the shuttle should be spent instead on such things as rapid transit and health care. All of the foregoing arguments, and others, are sure to be heard again before Congress decides whether to appropriate funds for shuttle development.

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